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tv   [untitled]    May 5, 2012 11:00am-11:30am EDT

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and he says, as of right now. so to that moment, he was the only person who knew this was going to happen. >> well thank you, everyone. thank you for your questions. and i'd like to thank our panelists. next, pulitzer prize-winning journalist tony horowitz on the 1859 harper's ferry raid. which he details in his latest book.
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he talks about the raid's impact on the abolitionists movement and the civil war. this is about 50 minutes. >> before we get started, i want to thank you all for coming. i'm kate mcginnis white for those of you who haven't met. for most of us, it's a wonderful welcoming to our home here in waterford. to celebrate both the journey through hollowed ground partnership, which is really the result of the work of many in this room, as well as to celebrate our dear friend and favorite author, tony horowitz. yes, indeed. yes, come on. >> and former neighbor. >> we consider you a current neighbor, tony, under the economic conditions and c-span,
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thank you, he is selling his house. >> you can tour it afterwards. >> we're here today as part of the journey through hallowed ground national heritage areas institute. conversations, engaging both our partners as well as our authors in bringing to the fore the history in the swath of land from gettysburg to monticello. we could not be more thrilled than to have tony with us who has not only been the best-selling author of "confederates in the attic," "voyages long and strange," as well as the chronicle of captain cook's navigation of the globe three times, which he did personally as well. >> not three times. >> not three times. and, of course, his newest "midnight rising," which is about john brown and the events that changed the course of american history forever. tony is also a pulitzer prizewinning journalist.
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he worked for many years for the "wall street journal" and "the new york times." but one of the things i want to tell you about tony is he really want to tell you he is a very, very dear friend. one of the things about tony is he really and truly has a notion that we at the journey like to say that we put people in the boots of those who went before us, in order for them to know, as david mccullough told us years ago, those people who lived long ago didn't know they were living long ago. tony one-ups it. because not only do our programs try to put students and visitors and teachers into the boots of those who went long ago, tony, as he writes here, wants to get not into their boots, but into their minds. and he's done that with every book he's written, and it
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transports us to times and places that really challenge us. so we're here today and we'll have a conversation, and then we're going to open the floor to your questions to this amazing man. because you're our friend, we still get to say that you're an amazing man. sometimes we don't get to say that. >> they say you can't go home, but i lived here for 13 years. it still feels like home. there are at least five people in the audience who i don't know. so there you go. it's the old mom. so good to be back. >> thank you. as we're here in waterford, we're not far from harper's ferry, the subject of john brown's raid. some of us are very curious to understand how this historical landscape has influenced so much of your writing, whether it's been confederates in the attic, or many of the articles you've written.
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and as we're so dedicated to this historic swath of land from gettysburg to monticello, would first like to open this with a ltitle of your insight and thoughts about this landscape and how it inspires us. >> i thought you were going to ask something different, which is why i didn't write this book while i lived in waterford. as the crow flies, are we 15 miles from harper's ferry? >> at most. >> i had to move to massachusetts before i thought great book in my backyard, in my former backyard. yeah, i mean, well speaking to this subject at least, first of all, i wrote, "confederates in the attic," because of what happened 50 yards from here when re-enactors stumbled into my front yard in waterford because they were reenacting for a movie here because it's such a great historic landscape.
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but with this book i think part of what -- drew me to write about it is that harper's ferry is still so intact, really. that it's this incredible mix of natural beauty and historical hauntedness, really, but even more specifically, the sites associated with brown are still there. so you can go to the kennedy farm where brown and his guerrilla band hid out in the lead-up to his raid and had this tense, sweaty summer, you know, in their hideout with 20 guerrillas and two women in this log cabin pretending to be farmers and entrepreneurs rather than abolitionists. you can then go into harper's ferry and the -- many of the buildings are still there, obviously, including john
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brown's fort as it's now known. you can go to the courthouse where he was tried. i can't think of many stories or many parts of the country where you can have that kind of experience where you cannot just re-live the history through the documents, but actually go to the ground, you know, where it happened. you go to the places where the history happened, and as i writer, i find that just a huge asset. just to use one example, while researching this book, on the 150th anniversary of brown's raid, i went with park service historian in harper's ferry dennis frai and other sort of demented pilgrims and we marched the exact route that brown and his men did on the night of march 16th, 1859. it was a cold rain, which apparently it was on that night, behind a horse-drawn wagon and we went the five miles into harper's ferry to the engine house.
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it was what re-enactors call a period rush. that sort of time travel high you get from, you know, leaving your own time zone. and we weren't wearing uniforms or carrying weapons or any of that. we had the horse. the horse was good. but, you know, that's the kind of thing you can do in the hallowed ground that, you know, most of american history sadly is -- you're going to hear traffic roaring in the distance. you're going to -- whatever. you're going to have all kinds of modern intrusions that are going to make it very difficult to recapture that history. so i think, yeah, actually i've gotten two books out of hallowed ground. it's a special place. >> you know, you remind me of something that's important to remember, and that is that history is not actually compartmentalized. that this entire swath of land has been formed by every generation that has lived with it. as this is presidents' weekend,
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i'm mindful of the fact we have president jefferson who lived at monticello, president madison, of course, president monroe, all of whom owned slaves, all of whom each, whether it was jefferson trying with the declaration of independence or madison with the constitution or monroe and others, each had to address slavery. it was a pressing issue from the beginning. >> right. >> can you share with us your insights into what you've seen as this very bloody example that john brown felt that he had to live as a result of the failures of our society over the years to actually wrestle this down? i'm not blaming them, because we know in context it's easy to look back and say morally how could they have ever? in fact, they could have never created a country under the circumstances had they tried to address all the problems they were grappling with with the
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founding fathers. but i'd love to -- i guess two questions. first, you're back with looking at a perspective, what is the legacy of not addressing a really critically morally imperative issue early on and what led to john brown? >> what really struck me during this project is that john brown is born in 1800. both his grandfathers fight in the revolution. his great-great-great whatever are puritans in new england. this is still a new country at this point, and they feel very connected the to the revolutionary generation. this is still an experiment. there's very much this sense that, you know, we need to make this -- we need to fight to make this work. with slavery, i guess what struck me most of all, i will blame them, but i won't blame the individuals specifically.
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i'll blame the whole country. i think too often when we look back at pre-civil war america, we think of the south as a sort of society apart. this sort of strange or maybe this is the view in the north. this sort of futile remnant that was clinging to plantation slavery, this aristocratic system that was destined to wither away as the country modernized and became industrialized. also kind of "gone with the wind" sometimes quite romantic view of this seemingly doomed world. when you immerse yourself in the diaries and letters and news reports of this era, as you said, they don't know their living history. they can't see what's coming in the future. you see things entirely different. slavery was completely of the
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fabric of this whole country. just to give a few examples politically, 13 of the first 16 presidential elections are won by slaveholders. it's not until 1852 that we have a major party ticket that doesn't have a slaveholder on it. the slave-holding south largely controls the supreme court. throughout the period between the nation's founding and the civil war. slavery in the south wasn't a world apart. they were really driving the nation in many ways. economically, cotton by the civil war is roughly three quarters of the nation's exports. i mean, this was the oil of its day. the whole country was hooked on it. our northern mills are churning out shoes and clothing largely for slaves. the value of slaves alone was greater than that of the nation's railroads, industries and banks put together.
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so, you know, i'm sorry, but this whole sort of terra image of this doomed romantic world simply isn't accurate. we, as a nation, were all culpable in this. we were all dependent on this system of forced labor. so i think that's, you know -- when you talk about the continuum, this is a story, yes, that begins, well, in jamestown in 1619, but really with the revolution and then the constitution where they sort of fudge the slavery issue. one of the most remarkable things about the constitution is they don't mention of word slave or slavery in the entire document, even though it comes up in the very first article. so right from the beginning, they were aware that we have a contradiction here. we were creating a nation that's ostensibly pledged to liberty and equality except for this huge exception.
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right from the start. essentially brown and harper's ferry is the end -- well, not the end, but it's a piece of this much longer story. >> let me ask you this. i mean, what i love about all your books is that you really do get into their minds by actually traveling in their footsteps and seeing it. i mean, for james cook you literally sailed on a ship like his, like captain hook's all the way around the world and worked on the top of a 100-foot mast to get into his mind. for "confederates in the attic," i really have to tell you. you trooped around more battlefields with more bloated bodies to get into the mind of the re-enactors and those. with john brown, given all that you've done and know about this man, what was the most profoundly riveting thing, once
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you got into his mind, that you found compelled him to this lifelong ambition of ridding slavery from this country? and with his preparation to die for it. >> right. yeah. i mean, the wonder with this story is, yeah, i went to the places where the history happened and walked in his footsteps in kansas and harper's ferry and other places, but we also have his letters and we have his writing and the letters of all of his family. these were wonderfully literate people, and brown, though not a well-educated man, had a wonderful writing style. thank god his handwriting is legible, which i learned is not the case. there's one character in the story where you just simply can't -- you can turn it upside-down, you try all those tricks. you open your eyes and close them. you still just can't read it. brown's letters are -- have a kind of spare eloquence, and so you feel you can really
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understand this man, both from his own writing and from what other people said about him. i don't think there's any one well spring to his sort of ferocious abolitionism and animus toward slavery. there isn't a sort of epiphany, though, he claims so. there's a long letter talking about his childhood, and he claims that it was the site of seeing a slave boy beaten with a shovel when he was 12. i'm sure that contributed to it, but i think it went much deeper. his father was an early abolitionist, and he was a staunch calvinist and part of that faith was a belief in really bearing witness to an opposing sin in yourself and others, being almost a sort of moral policeman, and slavery certainly was the great
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collective sin of that day. and i think it came partly from john brown's temperament. most abolitionists of this era are really pacifists, and they believe that the way to fight slavery is through education and moral uplift. john brown is something -- nothing galvanizes him more than bullying that goes unanswered throughout his life. he can't stand cravenness in the face of evil. he's someone who wants to punch back. and i think there's this temperamental part of him as well, that he looks around and sees the nation really being bullied by the slave-holding south throughout his life. and he wants to stand up to it. so i think that's part of it, too. so i wouldn't say there's any one experience or any one part of him that results in this militant abolitionism. >> you know, some suggest -- and you addressed this in your book -- that he knew when he had only
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18 men, to go in and take over an armory, which washington himself said, in then virginia, that it was not going to be successful and his ultimate goal was to be a martyr. what is your opinion about that? because what -- it was frederick douglas who set up a historic college that while john brown didn't end the war that ended slavery, he began the war that ended slavery. so if you could share with us your thoughts on whether or not he knew ultimately that it was going to be more successful to to be a martyr than to actually gain access to the arms. >> right. this is kind of the $60,000 question about john brown. what exactly is it that he intended? because he changes his story. you know, kind of a spoiler alert here. you know? john brown attacks harper's
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ferry, hoping to seize the 100,000 guns and begin this sort of rolling campaign of liberation across the south. he fails. so that's the spoiler alert. but i speculate in the book that because we can't know absolutely, that i think he had sort of two plans. that in his own mind, this was sort of a win-win. either he would succeed in this rather scheme of a small guerrilla band inciting this war of liberation, or he would die in harper's ferry as a martyr and essentially bring on the great conflict that he believed was necessary to extinguish slavery. in that sense, i think he was triumphant. he saw where this was leading, that only bloodshed could end this, and that he would spark this either by a successful
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guerrilla campaign or by an unsuccessful one that so shocked the nation and stirred the conscience of anti-slavery northerners that, you know, a great war would result. it didn't happen exactly in those terms, but in that sense he succeeded. >> so it begs the question, what do you think would have happened if he had not planned the raid, failure or success, and under any definition with the rest of american history? >> all right. it's one of those great what if's. one of those great what if's. i've toyed with it. again, we can't know. obviously, you can't have lots of fun with this. you can't be wrong. in my own view, abraham lincoln would not have been elected president, which was the final spur to secession and then the civil war. i think john brown's raid and lincoln's election were kind of the one-two punch that drove the
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south out of the union. it's a slightly complicated story, and i won't spell it all out. but the raid occurs in the early stages of the 1860 campaign for president. their campaigns were nothing like ours today, but at this stage, lincoln is really a second or third tier candidate in the republican field. the raid does several things. first of all, it significantly tarnishes his opponents in the republican field, particularly william seward, the front-runner, who comes to seem a little too closely aligned with the kind of the brown view of the universe. this is like 9/11. this raid hits the nation like a shock. people are scared, they're thinking war. and seward is someone who has made quite or quite perceived as
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militant statements. sam chase, another man in the race, had given money to brown. and here's lincoln, who then very deftly uses brown as a foil, really. he criticizes brown to position himself as the safely moderate choice in the republican field. you know? here we have these quite out there guys who are a little like brown. that's not what the republican party is about. we're not about taking on slavery in the states where it exists. we're not john browns. he talks about this quite explicitly even in his famous cooper union speech. he talks about john brown at length. so, one, i think it contributes to him getting the other nomination and the other effect it has is that it begins the fury in the south. we can't trust any northerner, so that steven douglas, who has sort of seemed the likely
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democratic nominee, who could unite north and south, the party is split. douglas is one nominee. there is another democratic nominee, breckenridge. and then a whole other party forms. when you have the november election, there are four candidates in the field and lincoln wins with less than 40% of the vote. if i had to guess, i would say if you hadn't had the raid, probably douglas would have become president who was a northerner who was very conciliatory towards the south, and this whole war would have been deferred for at least another four years. and who knows. i mean, then any number of other scenarios could have unfolded. so that's just a guess. i mean, but it's a significant -- >> it's more than significant, and it's so compelling. because that, of course, you just unrolled that a little bit further, and suddenly you don't have an emancipation proclamation. you don't have, you know --
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exactly. what we're talking about here is so fascinating. >> you have no hallowed grounds. >> we would have no hallowed grounds! >> or different hallowed grounds. >> or different. we'd be in a different country. we would be in a literally different country. so in that vein, and i know that you have actually slept in -- >> that sounds kinkier than it is. >> antietam is one of the many devastatingly too real battlefield sights. but it was because of antietam that lincoln was then, if you will, free to release the emancipation proclamation. talk to us about the fact that -- that's just a stone's throw from harper's ferry, and it's three years, but hundreds and thousands of lives in between.
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>> it's bizarre. the story comes full circle in this essentially very small geographic area. you have brown at the kennedy farm invading harper's ferry in 1859. harper's ferry then becomes a flash point and the civil war changes hands a dozen times. stonewall jackson, a leading part of the force, takes harper's ferry a few days before antietum, and that's why the battle happened. the union realizes lee has divided his army. they attack. and, as you said, as a result of antietum, which is seven miles from the kennedy farm, lincoln issues the emancipation proclamation. so, you know, this incredible journey in our history all occurs in this very tight geographic area. i mean, it really is quite stunning.
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this is the irony why i was sort of, not bashing lincoln, but suggesting that he wasn't the great emancipator initially that people imagined. he was actually on the conservative end of the anti-slavery spectrum. and this comes through again very much in his attitude towards brown. the great irony is that he eventually comes around to brown's position and that slavery -- this must become a war against slavery and ends up, you know, taking the step that begins to fulfill brown's mission, but also like brown, becomes a martyr through the cause. here's a final strange twist in their connection. one of the odd things about the harper's ferry story is it's almost a casting call for the confederacy. rob e. lee and jeb storm lead the troops in a counterattack
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against john brown, stonewall jackson turns up there. it's almost a prequel to "gods and generals" which was a prequel to "gettysburg." but jefferson davis is leading the charge in congress. you see all of these figures 18 months before the civil war. but in the final twist is at john brown's hanging, one of the guards is john wilkes booth, who later writes about being quite inspired by brown or talks to his sister about it. she writes about it. he calls him the great man of the century. here's a man who took an act that changed the course of american history, and that's ultimately what john wilkes booth then does in assassinating lincoln. >> chill bumps. i got 'em. i hope you all do, too. >> yeah. >> when you read this book, you're going to get more, because i'm going to tell you something that you do so remarkably well, and that is these names, they're names on history book pages for most
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people. but you actually open up their hearts, their lives, their thoughts, their fears to us. there are stories in here that are just astonishingly powerful, one of which is the story of african-american dangerfield newby, who was a freed black man who had his wife and six children? >> yeah, five or six. >> five or six children who were still enslaved, and he had raised $750 to buy their freedom. the master reneged. he was fed up. he was continuing to do that. and he had -- and this is something we do with our summer camp students and with our middle school students, is we make them go to harper's ferry as one of john brown's raiders. and they have to know the story, and with dangerfield newby, they have a coat with two notes.
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in one pocket is the actual letter that you write about here from his wife saying, husband come, come get us now. you can buy us now. come now. and in the other, of course, is a note from john brown saying we must free the millions of enslaved. and the man is looking at it saying, which do i do? can you tell the rest of the story? >> yeah. i think it's not known enough that this was among the many astonishing things about brown and his band. this was a biracial guerrilla band. and in this tiny mountain hideout -- you should go to the kennedy farm. it's a little log cabin. it's like one of those little log cabins here in waterford. you had roughly 20 men and women crammed into this little hideout all that summer. you can imagine how tense and sweaty it was. they're all writing letters to their lovers and family, essentially farewell letters beus


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